As long as there’ve been motorcycles, there’ve been lusty moto-savages setting out not just across the country but around the world, beginning at a time when paved roads were almost as rare as free Wifi hotspots, when cruise control consisted of knowing your shipping timetables, when Gore Tex was what charging cape buffalo did to your buddy from Dallas. When heated grips meant your exhaust was too close to your leather saddlebags, when… you get the picture. Here are ten such lusty brave adventurers (11 actually, and one mom), in no particular order and completely subjective, with apologies to guys like Helge Pedersen and Andy Goldfine (who are already household names), and even Louis and Temple Abernathy (lead image) because they preferred to travel by horse.
No doubt being an advertising copywriter was what inspired CS Clancy to say FTW! in October, 1912, set sail from New York for Ireland, and become the first person to circumnavigate the globe. Setting forth on a 934cc Henderson Four, Clancy commenced to ride through Europe, Africa, Asia and back to the west coast of North America – covering over 18,000 miles by August, 1913 – that’s less than a year.
How’d he support himself? Writing stories for Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review along the way of course. Our friend Dr. Gregory Frazier has written one great book about Clancy’s travels here.
I had never heard of these two Hungarians who covered over 110,000 miles on a Harley-Davidson sidecar rig, beginning in 1928. According to Wiki, setting out from Hungary in August, they travelled through France, Germany, Spain, Czechoslovakia, Portugal, Italy, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia, the Sudan, India, the Arabian peninsula, French Indochina, Siam, the Malay Peninsula, Japan, China, Hawaii, and Australia. From there they hit San Francisco, spent two years touring North America, then another two years in South America before making their way back to Hungary eight years later – having been to sixty-eight countries on six continents.
Their book was published in Hungarian in 1937 (probably even awesomer if you can read it in the original language), but it was reissued in English in 2008 and sounds like a great read if you have a job that requires your daily attendance. Bummer.
CannonBall Baker gets all the fame, maybe because of that name, but he didn’t set the USA cross-country record until years after George A. Wyman and William Chadeayne had done the deed on their motorized cycles. Wyman did it first in 1903, 51 days from San Francisco to New York. Chadeayne broke that record in 1905 – 47.5 days from NYC to SFO.
Erwin Baker, or CannonBall, obliterated the record in 1914 on his V-Twin Indian – 11.5 days – and his name will live on forever.
In 1915, this mother/daughter duo became the first female riders to make it across the US by motorcycle, and back: that’s right, a New York to San Francisco round trip, on another H-D sidecar outfit. Effie was reputed to be a speed freak, so her mother decided to ride along to keep her in check; her substantial weight alone was enough to keep speeds down in that era.
“I got a lot of non-family discouragement,” Effie recalled in her memoir. “Decent roads would be non-existent for most of the way; there would be deserts to cross, high mountains to climb, lack of water, no repair shop, no this and no that. Some things there would be, such as wild animals, wilder Indians, probably floods, maybe cyclones and other offhand acts of God; until it began to sound so interesting I would not have missed it for the world.”
Great story about the Hotchkiss ladies here at Ridermagazine.com
(In 1916, Augusta and Adeline Van Buren became the third and fourth women to cross the US, on a pair of Indian Power Plus 1000cc cycles. They made it in 60 days, held back mostly by being arrested several times for wearing men’s riding gear. The sisters were inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in 2002 anyway, and women achieved suffrage in 1920.)
Born in Manhattan in 1909 and named for his dad’s friend Thomas Edison, Robert E. Fulton Jr. led quite the life in addition to travelling 25,000 miles on a Douglas Twin when he was 23 years old – London to Tokyo via all over the place. His book, One Man Caravan, was published in 1937, and became a classic. After that, the Harvard-educated Fulton returned to the States, where he produced films for Pan-American Airways, became a pilot, invented the Airphibian flying car and the Skyhook long-range rescue system seen in the James Bond film Thunderball…
Fulton published a second book about his travels, Long Journey Home, in 2000, and shuffled off this mortal coil two years later, at 95 years old.
The guy who’d go on to reinvent American off-road riding was already an accomplished racer in the ’50s. In 1958, his wife died, his family said they’d take care of his three children, and Penton decided to just go for a ride.
“Taking off for Daytona in the still cold Ohio winter riding a 175cc NSU, Penton stopped off in Atlanta and won the Stone Mountain Enduro. From there he continued on to Florida and won the Alligator Enduro on the same bike he’d ridden from northern Ohio. Later that season, he continued riding the NSU to enduros across the Midwest and continued winning, including earning his first victory at the Jack Pine.
“Penton closed out 1958 by taking a road trip to Mexico. Once he hit California on the way up the Pacific Coast, he decided it was time to return home and he did so non-stop. That trip home inspired Penton’s brother Ted to challenge John to break the New York to Los Angeles record. On June 8th, Penton recorded his time and location with Western Union in New York City and set off for California on a BMW R69S outfitted with an oversized gas tank. Fifty-two hours and eleven minutes later, Penton rolled into Los Angeles. His record was heavily advertised by BMW and newspapers all over the world covered the record run. Penton was now a legend in motorcycling.” (motorcyclemuseum.org)
You couldn’t leave the author of Jupiter’s Travels off this list. Simon circumnavigated the world from 1973 to 1977 on his Triumph Tiger, something like 78,000 miles, then decided to do it again in 2001.
Ted’s the guy who inspired Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman to film Long Way Round. The story of his second round-the-world oddyssey, Dreaming of Jupiter, was released in 2007. See what Ted’s up to lately at Jupitalia.
Basically what Motorcycle.com does every time we go for a group ride but on a larger scale, movie star Ewan McGregor and sidekick Charley Boorman set off with a small film crew westward from London in 2004 on BMWs. The entourage travelled nearly 19,000 miles, as much of it on the bikes as possible, before making it to New York three months later. Their serialized adventures became a huge TV success, a book, a boxed CD set, etc., and led to Long Way Down, other projects – and sales of hundreds of thousands of BMW GS motorcycles. (KTM turned them down.) Heck, maybe the whole ADV movement began with these guys.
George Egloff’s previous coast-to-coast motorcycle record of 42 hours had stood since 1983. Carl Reese fired up his BMW K1600GT, left Los Angeles at 3:15 am, August 28, 2015, and rolled into BMW’s dealership on 57th Street in Manhattan 38 hours and 49 minutes later – a new record for the 2800-mile ride. There wasn’t much time to take in the sights, but then there really aren’t that many when you take I-15 to Las Vegas, then I-70 East, keeping up a 73 mph average the whole way.
All for a worthy cause, though: The Motorcycle Relief Project helps combat veterans with PTSD.
A quick message to Mike Kneebone at the Iron Butt Association for the latest in long-distance lunacy uncovered one Tom Loegering. Earlier this month, Mr. Loegering rode his BMW K1200LT through the 48 contiguous United States of America, western Canada and Alaska not once, but twice – in 19 days, 4 hours and 4 minutes.
No big deal for an experienced Iron Butter, that 17,369-mile journey started in California, continued on to Florida, Maine, and Washington, twisting and turning to ride in all the lower 48 states before ending in Alaska. Once there, Mr. L was apparently having such a nice ride, he turned around and completed the 49-state ride a second time before returning to California. It’s a shame there’s no land bridge to Hawaii.
Why’d he do it? Golf, obviously. “We are looking for sponsors to donate one penny for every mile I ride within the 20 days,” Loegering told one reporter along the way. “I will match the first $1,000 raised.”
Over the last three years, Golf Program in Schools has introduced golf to 16,000 youths in the West Valley. Loegering, who owns the Sun City Country Club (Arizona) would like to expand it to reach thousands more students.
Why not? Tom Loegering is 80 years old.
Related reading: 50 Tips for Riding A Motorcycle Across America